Journal article

The effects of high altitude ascent on splenic contraction and the diving response during voluntary apnea


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Publication Details

Author list: Holmström, Pontus;Karlsson, Øyvind

Publication year: 2021

Start page: 160

End page: 174

Number of pages: 15

ISSN: 0958-0670


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Voluntary apnea causes splenic contraction and reductions in heart rate (HR; bradycardia), and subsequent transient increases in hemoglobin concentration ([Hb]). Ascent to high altitude (HA) induces systemic hypoxia and reductions in oxygen saturation (SpO2 ), which may cause tonic splenic contraction, which may contribute to hematological acclimatization associated with HA ascent. We measured resting cardiorespiratory variables (HR, SpO2 , [Hb]) and resting splenic volume (via ultrasound) during incremental ascent from 1400 m (day 0), to 3440 m (day 3), 4240 m (day 7), and 5160 m (day 10) in non-acclimatized native lowlanders during assent to HA in the Nepal Himalaya. In addition, apnea-induced responses in HR, SpO2 and splenic volume were measured before and after two separate voluntary maximal apneas (A1-A2) at 1400 m, 3440 m and 4240 m. Resting spleen volume decreased -14.3% (-15.2 mL)/1000 m with ascent, from 140±41 mL (1400 m), to 108±28 mL (3440 m; P > 0.99), 94±22 mL (4240 m; P = 0.009) and 84±28 mL (5160 m; P = 0.029), with concomitant increases in [Hb] from 125±18.3 g/L (1400 m) to 128±10.4 g/L (3440 m), 138.8±12.7 g/L (4240 m) and 157.5±8 g/L (5160 m; P = 0.021). Apnea-induced splenic contraction was 50±15 mL (1400 m), 44±17 mL (3440 m; P > 0.99) and 26±8 mL (4240 m; P = 0.002), but was not consistently associated with increases in [Hb]. The apnea-induced bradycardia was more pronounced at 3440 m (A1:P = 0.04; A2:P = 0.094) and at 4240 m (A1:P = 0.037 A2:P = 0.006) compared to values at 1400 m. We conclude that hypoxia-induced splenic contraction at rest (a) may contribute to restoring arterial oxygen content through its [Hb]-enhancing contractile function and (b) eliminates further apnea-induced [Hb] increases in hypoxia. We suggest that tonic splenic contraction may contribute to hematological acclimatization early in HA ascent in humans.


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